Cherry Blossom Time!

Tokyo …  cold, drizzling rain, completely grey.  I thought this was the Land of the Rising Sun?

We braved the rain for a shivering walk through the Imperial Palace gardens. Immaculate and oh-so-ordered, huge stone walls reminiscent of Inca ruins, cherry blossoms just beginning their yearly ritual.

 

 

 

However, our stay in Tokyo at this leg of the journey is brief …

Buffeted by the “whump” of northbound bullet trains our Shinkansen Nozomi streaks southwards from Tokyo.

Hard to believe we’re doing over 200 kph. But yes, we get to Hakata, some 1100 k’s, in five hours including about half a dozen brief stops.

Barely an hour into the  journey we race through a light snowfall as the weather outside our cosy bullet cocoon deteriorates.

 

 

 

 

Time for lunch!  We delicately open our ikebana bento boxes – ikeben – almost too perfect in their fantastic packaging.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Change trains at Hakata, then the relatively sedate Limited Express delivers us to Nagasaki after dark.

We walk to our hotel and look forward to what tomorrow may bring.

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Recruiter and Schooner Master

Donald Joseph Bell (1 May 1912 – 1 July 1942)

I wish I could remember him, but I was only three at the time of this photo of my uncle Don Bell and Elizabeth (Bet) Herrington Carruthers, taken in Sydney about the time they were married, 2 October 1941. No prizes for guessing who is the little bloke with very tidy hair.

Elizabeth was born 22 years earlier in Apia, Samoa, and in 1941 she worked as a stenographer and lived in Kings Cross (from marriage certificate). Don, then a 29 year old A.I.F. private, was born in Herberton, North Queensland in 1912, the youngest of four sons to John William Thomas Bell and Ethel Harriet Victoria Bell.

Sadly, nor do I remember Don’s wife, but recall as a child being told she was beautiful and was born in Samoa. So in my young mind, she became ‘the Samoan Princess.’

Don’s three brothers had left North Queensland during the 1920’s for the Territory of New Guinea, as it was then known, and in 1931 Don joined them. He went to Kavieng, New Ireland where he worked for a while with his eldest brother Les in his engineering workshop.

Over the next several years, like many others, Don worked on copra plantations, boats, and spent some time transporting goods to the Edie Creek goldfield. For a time he was chasing gold in that area.

In his book ‘New Guinea Engineer’ by Gillian Heming Shadbolt, Don’s brother Les Bell said “Don won a name for himself as the only driver of transport trucks up the Wau to Edie Creek Road who stuck at it for any length of time.” He describes his youngest brother Don – ‘…stood 6 feet 3 inches – the tallest in our family. He was a fun-loving harum scarum devil may care sort of lad…”

Don worked for a time for W.R. Carpenter, on boats and on plantations, and went recruiting labour in mainland New Guinea for plantation work. Some areas he went into were not yet under official government control.

Later he moved to the Sepik River, shooting crocodiles for their skins. In ‘New Guinea Engineer’ his brother Les adds “…he settled on some land in the Sepik and started growing cacao.”

On 18 April 1939 Don sold the motor ketch ‘Manuan’ to his brother Stan Bell, for three hundred and fifty pounds, I have the original receipt, stamp duty affixed, witnessed by my mother, signed by Don. He’d bought the vessel some time previously, and had skippered it commercially. ‘Manuan’ was once owned by my mother’s father, and it was in this boat that he pursued my mother when she eloped to marry my father Lincoln Bell.

Time passed and the world slid into war.

Les’s book again – “Near the Atobe River… Stan, Don … and Don Waugh were gold prospecting… began following the river to its source. Their first find was a two inch nugget and from then on all they had to do was pick up nuggets and fill buckets. Stan described his brother Don standing there … saying ‘I can’t believe this. I’ll wake up and find it’s all a dream.’ They pegged claims… Stan and his wife were working the area when the Japanese invaded.” She was evacuated and Stan guided a party of civilians on foot over the mountains to escape.

8 July 1940 Don enlisted in the NGVR in Madang, his address shown as Lower Ramu, Bogia, Madang District. He’s listed as Rifleman NGX 126. (source: ‘The New Guinea Volunteer Rifles NGVR 1939-1945  A History.’ by Ian Downs.) That same book shows there were 19 NGVR enlistments from Madang between the outbreak of war and 10 July 1940, part of 520 enlistments in total from the Territory of New Guinea.

On the Attestation Form when enlisting, Don showed his occupation as “Recruiter and Schooner Master.” Army records show his unit as 2/19 Battalion A.I.F., rank private, number NGX 126. Transferred to 22nd Inf. Brigade 23 September, and in October taken on strength 2nd Rec. Rec. Bn. He was classified in January 1941 as Trade Group II Signaller. On 12 March 1941 he embarked for Singapore as part of the military build-up.

Struck down by illness, he was transferred to 10 A.G.H. Malacca, and returned to Australia where he was “Discharged medically unfit for service not occasioned by his own default” 22 October 1941.

A whirlwind romance and Don and Elizabeth were married.

They went to New Guinea, where Don managed Teripax Plantation on Tabar for Carpenters.

It seems they both were in Kavieng for Christmas Day 1941, because in his New Year’s Eve letter to Les, his father mentioned that “your mother…and Bet (being Elizabeth) and Don were collected by lorry on 25 December 1941” for evacuation from Kavieng by schooner. The women continued on to Australia, while Don stayed in Rabaul.

As with his father in Kavieng, Don must have been feeling lonely on New Year’s Eve 1941, and wrote to his brother Stan, then on the mainland coast. He wrote “I’m … now waiting for transport to the Solomons,running a boat for Carps. I have been running Teripax for Carps.” He continues about having to get some money together now that he is married.

The bulk of his letter comprises a detailed explanation of how to properly prepare crocodile skins for market, as he thought his brother was intending to do some croc hunting. He includes a drawing of a crocodile, topside and underside to illustrate the points in his letter. This is the only letter I have of his, it’s faded and the writing is hard to read.

He mentions that brother Lincoln (my father) was at Powell Harbour, getting out timber, but had problems because “transport is just about out.”

He closes with “Please give my cheers to any of the old Sepik crowd you strike, Stan. You know, although it’s the most uncomfortable place in the world to live in, I still hanker to get back to that dirty old river. It’s got something that no other place in the world has and I guess I won’t be really satisfied until I get back there. ….  Hoping to see you before very long.”

Several weeks later, with Don still in Rabaul, the Japanese invaded. He was taken prisoner. Years later, his name appeared on the manifest for the Montevideo Maru.

Searching the government archives, details of Don’s service record emerged. An accompanying note adds, referring to attachments …  “A copy of the ‘Form of Information of Death’ submitted in relation to Don Bell in 1946. This document is contained in the official file of civilians lost on the ‘Montevideo Maru.’”

The note continues –  “…interesting to note that no entry appears in the Cause of Death section. Virtually all other forms specify death resulting from the loss of the Montevideo Maru.”

I could find no expansion on this comment. Why was Don’s official record different from others on the MVM list? A logical answer would be that Elizabeth completed and signed the form, and at that time perhaps she did not know the cause of death, therefore did not insert one. Or did she, like Les, have doubts? Another attachment from the same archives (described as a copy of the original Japanese listing of the civilians on the Montevideo Maru) shows Don’s name on a list headed “PERSONS LOST ON MONTEVIDEO MARU.”

Montevideao Maru

Was he on that ship? I believe we will never know.

Don’s eldest brother Les always maintained that he did not believe Don was on the MVM. His belief was that his youngest brother died in the caves near Rabaul. He believes prisoners were herded into the caves and the cave mouths blown. In ‘New Guinea Engineer’ he says, referring to the list  – “I don’t believe it. … The names of my father John Bell and Ray Heming are on the official list of the dead along with Don’s. Dad and Ray did not sail in the vessel. They were prisoners in Kavieng and were garrotted there with the others…I reckon he (Don) died working in those caves in Rabaul with the Indians….”

The book recounts the following anecdotes. “Don was a constant menace to the Japanese guards, so apparently clumsy he often slipped and dropped cases of tins to the ground so they would spill, and somehow, one or two tins would slide through his bottomless pockets into his tied-at the ankle trousers.”

And another “In a cargo shed, a Japanese guard tried to slap Don’s face. Ignoring the guard’s rifle, Don laughed, grabbed the Japanese, lifted him high and set him down on a tower of tinned meat cases so their heads were level and the Japanese could more easily slap his face. Instead of putting a bullet or bayonet through Don as everyone expected, the Japanese went red in the face and made off out of the building.”

Les concludes “In my bones I feel Don never left Rabaul. Others’ remains have been found in the caves and identified. I believe his are there, too.”

Les held that view right up to his death. He acknowledged that he had no hard evidence, no corroboration. He “just knew it.”

Included in the note we received from the official archives – “An article entitled ‘A very Long War – the Families Who Waited’ by Margaret Reeson has been included to highlight the difficulties in confirming beyond doubt the fate of the military and civilian captives…believe to have perished on the Montevideo Maru.”

So what of Bet – Elizabeth – Don’s wife? About whom I knew nothing. The war shattered the family unit – two parents, four sons, their wives. And one grandson. So I don’t have memories of my grandfather, father or uncle Don. I met my two surviving uncles and aunts when in my teens. Sadly, I never again met Elizabeth, or hear anything about her.

During genealogy research on my family by my wife Carol about ten years ago, she came across a published eulogy, the contents of which sparked her interest. On examination, it turned out to be a eulogy to Elizabeth by her son to her second marriage. She had, of course, remarried after the war. Tentatively, I made contact with her son, and so began a wonderful correspondence.

I only wish we had tracked her down earlier, while she was still alive.

SOURCES:

  • Certified copy marriage certificate 2 October 1941 registered in New South Wales
  • ‘New Guinea Engineer’ by Gillian Heming Shadbolt
  • ‘The New Guinea Volunteer Rifles NGVR 1939-1945 A History’ by Ian Downs
  • Form of Information of Death – Territory of New Guinea
  • Australian Military Forces – Attestation Form
  • Army Form B103 Service and Casualty Form
  • Letter 31.12.41 from Don to brother Stan

 

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HAPPY NEW YEAR!

HAPPY NEW YEAR to all my readers and followers.

As the sun set on 2016 and another magical Whitsunday evening brought the year to a suitable close, I sat ruminating on the current project, Book 4 in my Williams series which is occupying much time.

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So it was a great thrill, and a confidence-boosting start to 2017 that on flicking through a weekend  paper I read a pleasing review by prominent Townsville journalist and reviewer, Mary Vernon, of Book 3 MELTED WAX.

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Thank you Mary for taking the time to read and review this work with a positive and pleasing review (and of course stimulating sales!)

The three books I’ve  published to date – PAYBACK, PURI PURI and MELTED WAX – are available in printed copy directly from me via my website www.johnbellbooks.com or by download to your digital reader from Amazon www.amazon.com/author/johnbellbooks.

Print-on-demand copies are also available from Amazon.

AUTHORS NOTE – Thank you PNG

John BellA special ‘thank you’ to those hundreds of people from PNG who have ‘liked’ my book blogs, and those who’ve clicked on www.johnbellbooks.com to check the books out.

Your interest provides fuel to the fire that keeps me writing. I’m now on Book 4 of my Williams Series, again a big PNG connection – no name yet – and all of you provide more incentive for me to push through the barriers that all authors encounter in their craft.

And let me talk for a moment about PURI PURI, Book 2 in the Williams Series

Being Kavieng born I know, as you do, that I’ve stretched author’s licence by linking ‘puri puri’ to an inherited gene. I’ve done so because it’s that deliberate bit of fiction on my part that lies at the very heart of the story.

It’s all about suspension of disbelief, and rolling with the concept.

On another point, I’m in the process of establishing a distributor in PNG for print copies of the books, to reduce the very expensive Australia Post cost of sending books to PNG.

All of my books are also able to be bought through Amazon, both as print editions, and as e-books, as well as print copies direct from me.  Click on the links below to find out more.

Thank you all once again, and for me now it’s back to the desk with renewed inspiration.

John Bell

FB cover copy

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SOME OF THE PHOTOS THAT INSPIRED A SERIES

 

AUTHOR’S LICENCE

A bit more on the Montivideo Maru …

 Puri Puri is set around the 25th anniversary of its sinking.

The book’s scan0005Kavieng ceremony is a bit of author’s licence (I rely on that a lot!), based on our visit to Kavieng several decades later (2002) for the dedication of a plaque to civilians who lost their lives in those dark days of WWll.  The pic to the left shows the plaque, and Carol, Lincoln and I laying a wreath. My grandfather’s name, and one uncle’s name, are on that plaque.

In the book, Angie is sent to Kavieng to do a story on the sinking.  It’s there she meets Nick Williams, whose uncle George died on the ship.  The Nick-Angie relationship rapidly develops.

Kavieng

Kavieng

PERSONAL CONNECTION – I was born in Kavieng (a while ago) and my grandfather was one of some thirty prisoners garrotted on the wharf by the Japanese in 1944.  Now known as The Kavieng Massacre, concealed and obfuscated for many years.  Raden Dunbar’s book of that name details the lead up, the chilling event, and the subsequent investigations and war crimes trials.  (search Kavieng Massacre)

Kavieng is a laid back town in an idyllic location at the northern end of New Ireland, a few degrees south of the equator.  A tropical paradise where “even the dogs walk slow”, it’s hard to imagine it being the location of such horrors.

 

Author at fathers house on Enelaua island - taken 2002

Author at fathers house on Enelaua island – taken 2002 – massive Indian Mast trees in front

FURTHER CONNECTION – pre-war my father was a government medicalofficer, established a leper station near Kavieng on Enelaua Island.  In 2002 we found the Enelaua building he worked in and the Indian Mast trees he planted (d’you remember Jack and Jane doing that planting in Payback?)

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Kavieng – 2002 memorial ceremony